Latin Patrons, Greek Fathers: St Bartholomew of Simeri and Byzantine Monastic Reform in Norman Italy, 11th-12th Centuries
Allegorica: 29 (2013): 20-35
St Bartholomew of Simeri (ca. 1050-1130), a Greek monastic founder and reformer from Calabria, saw the effective end of Byzantine imperial power in southern Italy in 1071, the conquest of Muslim Palermo by Robert Guiscard the following year, and the rise of the Norman kingdom of Roger II at the end of his life. Although he travelled extensively through Italy and Greece and was responsible for founding or reforming several monasteries, he is best remembered for founding the monastery of the Theotokos Hodegetria (‘the Mother of God shows the way’) in Rossano in ca. 1095 and his involvement in the organisation of the Holy Saviour of Messina in Sicily just before his death in 1130. Southern Italy is renowned for its great Latin monastic centers such as Monte Cassino and Cava, but the Greek houses of Rossano and Messina, too, would play a major role in shaping the religious landscape of the Norman kingdom and the island of Sicily, which had been almost completely under Islamic rule from the mid-ninth century until the Norman conquest.
Until relatively recently, many historians have viewed questions of Byzantine Christianity in Norman Italy in terms of the ‘latinisation’ debate; that is to say, in terms of an implicit cultural and religious tug-of-war between ‘Greeks’ and ‘Latins’. With a spike in interest since the 1990s in the cultural and social history of medieval southern Italy, several scholars have decisively demonstrated the impressive cultural fusion of Norman Italy and have shown that the notion of a Graeco-Latin tug-of-war is untenable. Indeed, even the terms ‘Latin’and ‘Greek’ are extremely problematic when used in anything but a linguistic sense; ‘Greek’ Christians actually represented a multitude of eastern Mediterranean traditions, while ‘Latin’Christians in southern Italy shared many practices with the Byzantine Church.